One of the advantages of being writer is that you get to live vicariously through your characters. I love dancing, however, I’m not very good at it. Fortunately now I’m old enough to dance as if no-one is looking and get away with it. Hence I started my series, Dancing Through Life, where my characters are all better dancers than I am.
There is something compelling about using your body to praise God, not just with words. Some feelings are just too powerful to put into words. They require our whole body. The love of God compels me to dance just as love of a spouse needs to be expressed in a physical form. David danced with abandon before the Ark of the Covenant. Miriam danced with tambourine before our God. So Psalm 149 calls upon us to get up and dance.
A new victory calls for a new song of praise. The writer of Psalm 149 calls upon the people to sing a new song, the fourth alleluia psalm. Israel has experienced a great victory. For that they sing praise to God. We don’t know the event. Some relate it to the victory of Judith over Holofernes, or the victory in Maccabbees. Whatever the victory, it was a great one requiring a new song for the occasion, a hymn of triumph, not just praise. The problem with triumph is it can easily turn into triumphalism, as happens in this psalm.
First the writer calls upon the people to rejoice in their king – God. “Let Israel be glad in his Maker, let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King!” (2) They are to praise God with song and dance, “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre!” (3); for God takes delight in his people, “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.” (4) It is God who gives his people victory.
After recounting the need to praise God, “Let the faithful exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their couches,” (5) the hymn goes on in a triumphal manner, demanding vengeance. “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written!” (6-9a)
Some say these verses are eschatological in nature, referring to an end time where God, the King, will come in glory to execute judgment and destroy all evil, to separate out all that is not fit to enter God’s kingdom. Thus, in this case, vengeance belongs to God, not to people, another reason to rejoice.
The psalm not only celebrates some actual victory, it looks forward to even greater victories, ending with God’s coming in glory. As such, it is fitting as the book of Psalms draws to a close to praise God our King and speak of the final victory when God will reign supreme. It parallels the second psalm in the beginning of the book of Psalms which speaks of God as King.
And so we are reminded of the importance of praising God for all God has done and anticipating all God will do. All reasons for song and dance!